I spy, with my own eye…something yellow!

Hallelujah!

Yesterday was a lovely, still, sunny day with a high temp of 39 degrees F. We’ve actually had seven sunny days out of eight, above freezing during the day but freezing at night. A lovely start to March! I headed out to photograph a broken part on a greenhouse vent latch, which we will need to replace and was surprised to see a bit of yellow. The first blooms of 2021, and as usual provided by “Cream Beauty” crocus, arriving on March 2nd. What a very welcome surprise! I’d walked around all the gardens daily since snowmelt, and the best I could find were a few crocus tips pushing through. The “most mature” seemed to be those at the south edge of the Deck Garden so that’s where I anticipated the first blooms, but they were outpaced by these in the Potager’s Exterior Border. I’m thrilled!

Chives have pushed through.

Excitedly, I hurried into the potager to look for chives. They are always one of the first “new greens” to appear, and there they were, looking a bit twisted and yellowed once I removed some dead foliage, but they will change radically in only a day or two. Moving on down the south interior border I spied more green.

The Lemon Balm’s crinkly leaves are opening nicely.

Another reliable early riser, Lemon Balm was also showing fresh green leaves. They look large in the photo, but are actually about the size of my pinkie fingernail. I tasted a leaf, but there was very little flavor. A few more days of sunshine will change that. Seeing the lemon balm sent me searching for signs of life in the Mandarin Orange balm that I planted further down the border last spring. Did it survive its first winter?

Indeed it did! Mandarin Orange balm emerging.

A quick look at its neighbors was disappointing, but they will come. Across the path on the West Interior Border, the roses all had a tinge of green on their lower stems. These hollyhocks have definitely added some leaves since I saw them last.

Definitely need some clean-up work here and there.

Lots of nigella seedlings have popped through, and hundreds of chamomile babies cover the northern half of this border (lots of them will be coming out!) but there was no sign of rhubarb yet. That’s okay. I can be more patient now. There’s a new spring in my step, because Spring is definitely on the way!

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February: Monthly Review

This was the potager the first 3 weeks of February.

Snow arrived on January 31st and remained until February 26, except for a few piles where the driveway was plowed, and patches in the shade of the Lady Cottage and gazebo. I don’t know how more northern folks manage the piercing bleakness. It made the month seem very long. Of course it was sunny on Groundhog Day, foretelling 6 more weeks of winter. We’ll see how that turns out. We did have some near record-breaking cold. The lowest temp was minus 12 F. And we had cold for an unusually long period for February, with below freezing temps for weeks, and more snow than usual for this month. The snow finally began to melt…albeit slowly at first on Feb. 23, and then more quickly on Feb. 28th, when it actually hit 62 degrees F here in north central Indiana. At least February ended on a high note! By late afternoon, the potager looked like this…

The potager on the final day of February!

It was too soggy to take the golf cart out, or to carry a ladder to the top of the Lavender Slope, so the photo was taken at ground level. If it had been taken higher, you could see all of the standing water in the closer paths. Notice how the nearest berry box has a sunken top from the weight of the snow. It was stretched-tight metal hardware cloth securely nailed, so I’m not sure how it sank so far. I bucketed 12 gallons of water off the top before it was light enough that I could lift it to tip the rest of the water off. The “center” box is the spinach box, which I had cleared of snow several times to harvest during the month. The far box covering leeks and carrots apparently has a few small holes that let water leak through, although I didn’t spot any holes when I looked. Interestingly, the spinach that was left totally uncovered looks just as green and happy as the spinach under the berry box shelter. The difference is that the outdoor spinach hasn’t grown at all, while the protected spinach has grown whenever the temps allowed. All in all, nothing was accomplished outdoors at all the entire month, and there was no noticeable change in any of the gardens, other than pruning done by the deer. And for those of you who have steel-trap minds, “No, the primrose bud did NOT open, so there was no outdoor flower at all in February 2021.” In fact, it still has snow over the leaves, but the bud is still there, intact and unfurled, so there is hope for March! In past years, since 2015 when I began bloom records on the gardens here at the house, there have only been two years when there has been an outdoor bloom at all in February. “Cream Beauty” was the earliest arrival in both instances, Feb. 17th in the unusually warm and dry year of 2017, and Feb. 26 in 2018. In all other years, a “Cream Beauty” crocus bloomed sometime in the second week of March. I was hoping to get more flowers in February by adding snowdrops last fall, winter aconite the year before, and moving some hellebores into locations that get more sun in winter, but none of those changes made a difference this year.

Spinach protected by the covered berry box, harvested twice this month.

Indoors, the seeding has continued with an additional 20 varieties sown: onions, statice, peppers, gold cipollini, calendula, orange portulaca, another lavender, delphinium, another primula, asarina, fava beans, sweet peas, and the dwarf marigolds that will edge the potager’s main paths.

Swallowtail Seeds arrived just in time for planting.

The most exciting variety to me are the “Henry Eckford” sweet peas, which are supposed to actually be orange. They’ve already germinated and are about an inch tall. Still waiting on some back-ordered “Captain of the Blues” to arrive, hopefully soon. Just in case, I did soak and sow the seeds I collected from last summer’s sweet peas, which were very nice. Total varieties seeded to date: 47

Additionally, 192 plants have been transplanted into individual pots this month.

Another “saved” amaryllis.

The parade of amaryllis continues, with another “after Christmas deeply discounted” bulb purchased years ago that has bloomed each year since. If there hadn’t been Covid (how often have we repeated that phrase?!?) I would have hit the stores hunting for more of these treasures the week after Christmas. This one is one of my favorites.

Harvested in February: only 1.5 lbs. (spinach, 2 carrots and two very small leeks) The snow was too deep, or the ground too frozen to attempt much else without great effort, which I was not willing to expend!

That’s the review of February, which was not a great month, but we are still here, we did not suffer any power outages like some parts of the country, we had plenty to eat, and there were some beautiful sunsets the last few days of the month, like this beauty.

another gorgeous February sunset…eager for warm days when we can view them while entertaining on the deck!

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Happy St. David’s Day!

Today is March 1st, also known as St. David’s Day, the patron saint of Wales. It is said that  David (“Dewi” in Welsh) lived in the 6th century and only drank water, sometimes immersed himself in icy water while reciting scripture, and made his diet mainly of leeks.  I have my own St. David, and although he’s not Welsh, his birthday is in March, and he happens to love all members of the allium family:  onions, garlic, shallots, chives, garlic chives and leeks so I grow lots of them all.    However, it is the leek that is the national emblem of Wales.  When the Saxons invaded Britain in 640 (some say 633) the Welsh tucked wild leeks from a field near the battlefield into their hats and tunics to distinguish friend from foe.  After the victory, it became a custom to wear a leek on St. David’s Day, March 1st.  Some say the Welsh also wore leeks when fighting with Henry V against the French.  Apparently, the Welsh are fond of wearing leeks because the tradition still remains in some parts of the country, and the Welsh Regiment of Foot Guards proudly wear the leek symbol as their regimental badge.  There is some controversy about the story, for a few scholars insist that the early historians were actually describing daffodils rather than leeks.  To be even more confusing, the Welsh name for daffodil is Cenin Pedr, or St. Peter’s Leek.  St. Peter, St. David.  All I can say, is if you’ve ever seen a Welsh road sign, it’s all confusing.

Leeks beginning to thicken.

An English poet explained the association with St. David and leeks in “Polyolbion” with these words:  (St. David)..”did so truly fast, As he did only drink what crystal Hodney yeilds, And fed upon the leeks he gathered in the fields.  In memory of whom, in each revolving year, the Welshmen on this day, that sacred herb do wear.”

Shakespeare poked fun at the Welsh and their love of leeks in “Henry V” with a scene filled with phallic, leek based verbage aimed at the Welshman Fluellen.  Some mystery lovers claim that Agatha Christie was making a joke when she named her  petite, dandified Belgian detective Hercule Poirot after a strong, large member of the allium family (poirot=poireau=leek!)

Leeks (Allium porrum or Allium Ampeloprasum var. porrum)  earned their common name from the Saxon word “leac” for “spear.”  They are one of the earliest agricultural crops, cultivated in Egypt as early as 3000 B.C.  By A.D. 800, Charlemagne included leeks in his “must grow” for his empire and they were grown by monks in England during the Middle Ages.  Choctaw Indians grew leeks before 1775 and an early American seed catalog listed three varieties in 1778.  They are often grown as companions to protect other crops from invasive insects.

While they are very slow to grow from seed, they are worth the effort.  They have a mild onion flavor and need a long growing season, so start the seeds early in order to get the 100 days required.  I plant seeds in March, and grow them on until they are pencil thick seedlings. Those go into a deep trench of rich, well-drained soil, or individual dibbled holes. Gradually fill in the trench or hole with good soil as the leek grows taller.  Adequate moisture is essential throughout the growing season, and they love cool temperatures so those of you in very hot areas may find growing them more difficult.  There are many different varieties available, but the only truly great success I’ve had is with French Baby Leek “Primor.” For a baby, I think it gets pretty darn big!  Leek Primor compressed

Leeks are loved by chefs and gourmets everywhere, grilled, stuffed, braised, baked, friend, and especially in Leek & Potato soup, often called “Cock-a-leekie” or a fancier form, vichyssoise.   They are often used in sauces and quiche as they blend especially well with cheeses.  Leeks contain half the carbs of onions, so they are lower in calories and can generally be substituted for onions in most recipes.  They are high in vitamins (A, C, and E) and are also high in iron and fiber.

My biggest leek weight-wise, which was 4″ across in diameter!

The leek was also used as a prophecy:  if a girl walked backwards into a garden at Halloween and placed a knife among the leeks, she would see a vision of her future husband in the shine of the blade.  The Emperor Nero ate Leeks to improve his speaking and singing voice, earning the unflattering name of “porrophagus,” or leek-eater.

Leeks were boiled to use as a poultice for boils, and baked as an anticdote for eating too many mushrooms.  The old adage: “Eat Leeks in March, and Ramsons in May, and all the year after Physicians may play” indicates that the health benefits were recognized even in olden days.   Another old saying is “If they would eat leeks in March and mugworts in May, so many maidens wouldn’t go to the clay.”  In many regions, the green leaves of leeks are steeped in boiling water, which is sprayed to repel flies.  I like this idea, as generally only the white parts are eaten and the green leaves are discarded.  Waste not, want not.

Leeks are still plentiful under the berry box cover!’

This morning, I ventured out to the potager to see how the carrots and leeks had fared inside the covered berry box. February had some brutally cold temps for days and nights in a row, and in prior years the carrots had become mush. Although the leeks don’t look as pretty as they did in late fall/early winter, they are still fine and solid and ready to use. Happily, so were the carrots. Surprisingly, a few smaller leeks in another bed, left entirely unprotected are also fine! Oh, the resilience of plants!

Leeks are the birthday flower for February 9, and symbolizes liveliness.  I’ve never let leeks go to seed, and I’d be hard-pressed to push them to flower for February 9th but maybe I’ll let one flower just so I can see it.  Leeks are biennials, so it would take two growing seasons to produce a flower.

Happily, this March 1st is a sunny, but chilly 39 degrees F here in north central Indiana. Not as warm as yesterday, which was a very blustery, unusually warm 62 degrees, but no wind and pleasant to be outdoors. So, wherever you are, celebrate St. David’s Day…invite a leek to dinner…or wear it, if you’re Welsh!

(This is an updated revision of an article first posted on this blog March 1st, 2018)

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The seeding is on schedule…but under debate!

The favas are planted!

While the weather was so frigid, and the days were endless gloom it was a little hard to be motivated to sow seeds. It just seemed foolhardy, since spring was so very far away. And, the memory of last year’s hard freeze in mid-May kept circling through my brain. There was a lazy part of me that cautioned, “Just don’t be in such a rush!” However, my Puritan work-ethic and farmer-ingrained optimism ruled the day (for the most part) and the seeding has continued pretty much on schedule, or actually a bit ahead of 2020’s seeding. Last year we traveled in December (Italy), January (Florida) and February (North Carolina) so no seeds were planted until February 19! Obviously this year travel wasn’t possible, so I’ve pretty much been following the 2018 and 2019 schedules with just a bit of tweaking here and there.

The photo above shows toilet paper rolls filled with soil, packed into a plastic tub, and seeded with “Robin Hood” dwarf fava beans (also know as broad beans.) Every year, I debate whether to do them or not. They aren’t really a “normal” crop for northern Indiana, where are winters are too severe to plant them in autumn and overwinter them in ground as they do in much of Europe. I must start them indoors early, harden them off and get them into the ground as early as possible, and hope that they set pods before the temps reach 70 degrees F. Often, that just doesn’t happen and instead the blooms drop off in the heat and no pods set, or there are pods, but the beans are just few, small, and barely worth harvesting. That was especially the case with full-sized favas. Then I discovered the dwarf “Robin Hood” from Renee’s Garden seeds, which are quick enough to produce a crop even heree! That said, there is still the issue of having to shell them, blanch them, then slit each bean to remove the tough outer skin, and one is left with a small amount of usable food. Yes, they are delicious at that point and can be used in a number of ways, but are they really and truly that much better than a good old American lima bean (also known as butter bean)? The debate is on…

This year, for the very first time in nearly 80 years, my 96 yr. old mother has decided not to grow lima beans. They are a family favorite, and whenever any of my children visit her, she knows they’ll be disappointed if those buttery beans aren’t included in the meal. She grew a lot of them last year, and as her hands become more arthritic, shelling those tough pods was more difficult. And, since no one has been able to visit this past entire year, there are still a year’s supply in her freezer. So, she’s planning to grow more peas and zinnias instead.

Not knowing of her decision, I’d already ordered her usual Fordhook Limas, so they are in my seed stash. However, my carefully devised planting plans for the potager did NOT include any beds for space-hungry, sprawling lima bean plants! For the past few days, I’ve been debating whether to revise the plans, which would be a major undertaking and upset lots of succession planning since limas are a long-season crop, or just pass on growing limas. I’d thought about replacing the fava’s space with limas, but limas can’t go into the ground in early spring when it’s cold as favas can, and the favas grow more upright and tidy than the lazy limas. On the other hand, the amount of actual food per bed would be greater with limas than with favas. What to do?

Obviously, from the photo, I’ve decided to grow the favas. It’s still iffy on travel to Europe, and I miss those luscious broad beans. When I eat them this summer, it will bring back lots of wonderful memories of meals past in England or Italy.

Whether the limas will be planted is still a mystery. It may or may not happen. The debate continues…

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Odds and Ends

Last night’s sunset!

Suddenly we have some sunshine, and I can’t express how welcome it is after weeks of gloomy days. I think I missed being able to witness sunsets almost as much as I miss sunshine during the day! Last night’s sunset was absolutely glorious. My “camera skills” are not adequate to come close to capturing the brilliance, but you can get an idea.

Yes, we still have a lot of snow on the ground, although today’s warmer temps and sunshine will melt some of it. It has already melted off the Lady Cottage roof and is warm enough that the water in the bird bath in the Deck Garden is liquid for the first time in a month. I have been mystified all during these last snowfalls by the actions of the deer. In an area just to the east of the Lady Cottage, on the slope, the deer have continually come and scraped three spots that you can easily see below.

They first appeared after our 5″ snowfall. When the additional 8″ fell a few days later, the deer came and scraped them clear again. After our lastest snowfall, their actions were repeated. I’m at a loss as to why they are picking these spots and seem determined to keep them clear! There are NO plantings or bulbs there, just grass. It’s doubtful they are looking for water, because the creek is at the bottom of the slope and has not been totally frozen over, so water is available. There were no leftover black walnuts there, and I know it is deer because I’ve observed them doing it, and it’s not bucks marking territory because the scrapers are female! We’ve lived here nearly thirty years, and I’ve never seen this happen anywhere on our property before. Any ideas?

So, winter continues here and probably will resume once this spell of warmer weather has moved through. I potted the last amaryllis bulb for forcing today. There are other smaller ones, but I doubt they will bloom so I’ll wait to pot them when I have more soil available, and just grow them on to get larger for next year. While digging around in the garage for a box to store some empty canning jars in, I found a handful of bulbs that I’d somehow left on the golf cart. These were bulbs that were dug up while I was planting tulips last autumn, and they should have been replanted immediately in another spot. Obviously they weren’t, so today I plopped them all in a pot and we’ll see what happens. There were some dwarf Dutch iris, a couple of species tulips, and a half dozen tiny things that I could look up, but I’ll just wait and be surprised…if they sprout!

Amaryllis number 5.

Meanwhile, amaryllis number 5 has opened. It is one I’ve had for about four years now, and although red is not my favorite color, at this time of year I’ll pretty much enjoy anything! There are still two more buds on it to bloom, but only one bloom stalk. I was not as faithful about fertilizing the amaryllis bulbs last summer while they were under the potager’s benches in light shade, and the result has been slightly smaller bulbs and fewer bloom stalks. I’m promising them I’ll do a better job this summer because I’ve certainly enjoyed them immensely this long winter. The first one came into bloom December 22, and there’s been a steady parade of blooms since, with five pots more to go. Hopefully at least one of them will be the “Terra Cotta Star” that I ordered!

These hyacinths are nearly finished…

I’m still debating whether to put the last six hyacinth bulbs that are currently in the refrigerator into a pot, or just wait and plant them outdoors after the ground thaws. While I’ve certainly enjoyed their fragrance and flowers, they haven’t seemed to last very long…..okay, I just checked my journal and the first bulb in this pot began to open February 9, so two weeks of fragrance and flowers is certainly adequate. I’ll be pulling those last bulbs out of the fridge and into a pot tomorrow! And in case anyone is wondering, that 6th bulb never did grow. It’s tiny root just shriveled up and died.

Later this afternoon, I’ll bundle up and trudge through the snow to the potager to harvest some spinach for tonight’s Lo Mein. If the ground in thawed enough in bed 1c, under the plastic-covered berry box, I’ll dig a carrot or two just to see if they are still good, or if they have turned to mush after that long period of sub-zero temps. If I can’t dig them, there are some carrots in the garage, and along with an onion from the allium rack, some peppers and snow peas from the freezer, and some home-canned chicken we’ll have a hearty meal for pennies. And maybe I’ll even seed a bit of lettuce in one of the troughs in the greenhouse! On a sunny day, everything seems like a good idea!

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Anticipation

It’s snowing again and the temperature is 12 degrees F, with lower temperatures in the forecast for the upcoming ten days. Sigh! The good part of that is when the temps do drop to zero, at least the garden’s plants will have the protection of a nice blanket of snow. And, we do need the moisture the melting snow will eventually provide. However, all the jobs I’d thought I’d do in February are definitely on hold. Normally we have a few “light jacket” sunny days, and I thought I’d build a wooden tower or two and get them painted, using the scraps left from building the berry boxes last autumn. The plan is to have a tower for cucumbers in the two center beds in the south half of the potager this summer, not only to give them more room to grow, but to add some visual height to the garden where there will be no trellises. (The trellis are on the east-west path for crop rotation purposes this year.) The month is half over, but hopefully the last half will improve, and some tasks can be tackled.

Snowdrops were planted beneath this little sumac. Anticipation is high!

Thwarted, the graph paper plans for the potager have been revised, and revised again as the days of winter stretch further and further. (And as yet more seeds are ordered!) I spend a lot of time, tea in hand, viewing the gardens out the windows, imagining and wondering. Will the winter aconites return? Will the snowdrops ever come up under the little sumac? Will any of the many new daylilies planted last year and the year before bloom this summer? Will the seed orders all arrive? Will the ranunculus bulbs come in time to start them so they’ll be able to grow in cool weather? Will the two expensive hellebores in the Front Island bloom this year? They certainly haven’t grown much since being planted last spring. Will the squirrels eat the new varieties of crocus and “Glory of the Snow?” And will either of those push up through the snow anytime soon? Will any of the perennials added to the Addition Garden last spring and summer bloom this year? Will the roses bush out and provide more flowers? Will the sweet pea seeds arrive so I can get them started this month? Oh, yes, there’s lots of anticipation going on here…

Will we have garden club meetings again? Will we sponsor a plant sale? No need to grow an extra few hundred plants if we are not having a sale. Will any of the outdoor garden shows happen this year, or any of the garden tours? Will we be able to invite friends for dinner? Will any of the children or grandchildren be able to visit?

I totally realize that these questions are trivial compared to those many are asking…”Where will money for food and rent come from?” “Did that person coughing next to me carry the virus?” “Is my business going to survive this mess?” “Is my job going to be here next month?” “Will I ever see my children again?” “Will my heart mend from all the friends and family I’ve lost?” and on and on. There’s little I can do but pray and help out where I’m able.

The first forced hyacinths…wish you could enjoy their fragrance!

Meanwhile, a little bit of anticipation has been fulfilled. The first pot of hyacinths are coming into bloom providing a bit of cheer against the snowy background. Hurrah! These are “Gypsy Queen,” a soft peachy-salmon color. Interestingly, all six bulbs were treated exactly the same, the pot was rotated daily a quarter turn, but one is fully opened, two are just showing color, two are still forming buds, and one has refused to do anything at all. It still feels firm, but while the others have all sent clusters of roots to the bottom of the pot, this little fellow has only one tiny 1/2″ root at this point. We’ve had so little sunshine during their growth period that the first one is a bit less compact than it would have been normally, but even a bit stretched it is still lovely and the fragrance is wonderful. There are enough bulbs in the refrigerator for one more pot, which will be planted today. Now, I’m wishing there were more, and will put some blue ones on the bulb list for next winter’s cheer.

What are you anticipating most? And what are you doing to get through this long winter?

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Lettuce improve our lettuce production!

“Little Gem” lettuces (Pinetree Seeds)

I admit it. I’ve been stuck in a rut for a while, ordering the same lettuce seeds year after year. There’s good reason for that, of course. Growing the varieties that have proven themselves as reliable and productive in the potager just makes good sense. So every year I grow the favorites, but I’ve been observing the lettuces more carefully, and taking a closer look at the harvest journal. I find myself wanting two things. First, a lettuce that can hold up to our summer heat and humidity without bolting so quickly and without getting tip burn (that’s turning brown on the outer edges.) Secondly, a lettuce that can withstand cold temperatures longer, and stay nice in the coldframes to really extend the lettuce season. It didn’t take much research to discover that there are indeed such crops, so I’ve added some new characters to the plot! (Pun intended.)

Lettuce “Alkindus” (Territorial Seeds)

Every year I grow the favorite heirloom “Black Seeded Simpson” that self-seeds in the potager’s interior border and hides the fading tulip foliage there. I remember it growing in my grandmother’s garden and it’s the only kind my mother plants. “Black Seeded Simpson” is a looseleaf type which is the best for planting in the earliest days of spring. They can be grown as “cut and come again”, or thinned and allowed to form loose “heads,” but they aren’t really heads. I think of them more as a loose bouquet. There are dozens of different looseleaf varieties in various colors, and leaf shapes (ruffled, deer tongue, oak leaf) and generally take 45-50 days from seed. However, they are not very good for growing in hot weather. As much as I love BSS, I have to admit that it does get bitter and a bit tough as it ages, although as soon as that begins to happen we make “wilted lettuce” and add a bit of onion to counteract the bitterness, until the leaves are just too tough. So this year, I’m giving another heirloom looseleaf called “Cracoviensis” (Pinetree Seeds) a try. Why did I pick it? Well, it’s a French heirloom and every potager needs a few authentic French inclusions. And, it has purplish tips and tender leaves, but it is famous for being a “two-crop” veggie in that the leaves are used when tender, but as the plant ages and leaves begin to get more tough, it is allowed to continue to grow. Just before the seed head emerges, the lettuce is cut off at the base, leaves removed, stems are peeled to become a crunchy celery/asparagus vegetable called “Celtuce.” I’m eager to give that a try!

Lettuce “Victoria” (Territorial Seeds)

A more recent crop in the potager that has become a favorite, “Victoria” is a voluptuous, large butterhead with the most tender light green leaves of any lettuce I’ve ever grown. Usually by the time the looseleafs are fading, the Butterheads are coming on strong, with their buttery, tender flavor that inspired their name. Most Butterheads take about 50 days from seeding. I also love “Alkindus,” (photo #2) a deep burgundy, tender butterhead to add a bit of color to salads.

This year I’m adding “Marvel of the Four Season” or “Merveille de Quatre Saisons” as well. It has a Bibb type leaf, and the Bibbs are known to tolerate heat a bit better than some others. Interestingly, some catalogs list “Marvel” as a butterhead, some as a bibb, and some as a Crisphead! I’m eager to see how it performs and plan to plant some every two weeks throughout the growing season just to see what happens.

“Little Gem” (top photo) became a favorite when our family decreased to two, not only for its size which is perfect for a serving or two, but also its crunchy texture, dense heads, and good flavor. I’ve grown lots of other Romaines, but “Little Gem” is my go-to. Many of the others are excellent, but just get too large and I end up throwing half the head in the compost. I’ve also grown “Tom Thumb,” but it’s just a little too small. Call me “Goldilocks”….I want it just right! Planted in the shade of crops on a trellis, it’s quick growth isn’t as harmed by hot weather as some other lettuces. Just be sure to keep it moist.

That brings us to the Crispheads, the most familiar of which is the common “Iceburg” found in most groceries. I have to admit I’ve never really grown Crispheads but this year I’m giving one a try, mainly because D keeps asking why I don’t grow “real lettuce” and because it is supposed to do okay in hotter weather, provided it has sufficient moisture. Two that were suggested as holding up to heat best were “Summertime” and “Two Star.” By the time I decided to add a crisphead to the potager cast, I was down to my very last seed order, vowing not to pay shipping costs from yet another company. I ordered “Summertime,” but it was already sold out, so I’m getting one called “New York 12,” (E&R seeds) said to be a large, sure-heading, cabbage-solid head that is resistant to tip burn and holds up well to heat. Takes 60-90 days depending upon when sown. I’m not holding my breath on this one, but I’ll do my best to make it happy.

photo from a Renee’s garden flyer

The Batavia lettuces are reputed to be the hardiest for cold weather. Those suggested most were “Arctic King,” “Winter Marvel,” “Winter Density,” “Brune d’Hiver,” and “Rouge de Hiver.” I’m trying “Winter Density,” “Rouge de Hiver,” (both from E & R) “Blush Batavian,” and “Webb’s Wonderful” (Renee’s). I’ll be planting them in late September so they’ll have time to get established before really cold weather comes, under a berry box with plastic covering. It will be fun to see which ones last longest as the winter progresses.

So that outlines my attempt to smooth out the gaps and extend the lettuce production in the potager this year. I’ll still be using up some old seed of this and that tucked here and there in the interior border just for color and texture, but the “main” crop lettuces will be those mentioned here. Needless to say, the sowings will be in very small batches and often, with . Watch for reports and evaluations as the season progresses.

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Kohlrabi, this year’s “trial” crop

Kohlrabi “Early White Vienna”

Each year since the potager began, I’ve picked a crop for testing and evaluation. One year it was peas, another it was spinach, another beets. I find as many varieties as I can and have space to grow, but also keep in mind that to keep costs reasonable only my “usual” seed companies are included to avoid additional shipping costs. This year’s crop is kohlrabi, a member of the brassica family.

Kohlrabi may be unfamiliar to many, but it was a staple in my mother’s garden so I’ve eaten it, and loved it since childhood. “Early White Vienna” was the variety we grew, mainly because that was the only one local stores carried back in those days. It was always sliced and served raw, and was often a substitute for salad when Mother was especially busy.

Kohlrabi “Early Purple Vienna”

When I moved to the homestead in southern Indiana, I felt very adventurous when I planted “Purple Vienna” kohlrabi in addition to the white. I actually like it just as well, if not better, and the color makes a nice contrast in the garden beds. It’s only purple on the outside, and white inside. Discovering that kohlrabi is delicious when steamed with a little butter, salt and pepper was exciting as it added another vegetable to our menu rotation, somewhat similar in flavor to turnips. It can also be shredded or chopped to become a “slaw” or fried like cabbage. Just think of it as the member of the cabbage family that it is, and that will give you an idea of the flavor.

Kohlrabi can be planted in spring, either direct seeded once soil temps reach about 50 degrees F, or started indoors for an even earlier crop. I’ve read that it can be planted much earlier, but in the times that I’ve done that (like last year!) the young sprouts (These were about 3″ tall) all froze and turned to mush in that mid-May freeze we experienced. So, my advice is to wait. Some folks have said it dislikes being transplanted, but I haven’t found that to be a problem. I usually plant transplants, and also seed a row at the same time for a succession of crops. It does prefer cool weather, and may become woody and a bit sharp in very hot, dry weather. Keeping it watered helps. Seed again in early August for a fall crop (at least that works here in Zone 5a.) It holds up to frosts and light freezes in the late fall garden much better than in spring for some reason, and like turnips, seems to get a bit sweeter. Long lasting in ground or in cold storage, kohlrabi is a good choice for extending the growing season. I’ve kept them in the refrigerator for 4 months with no apparent change in taste or texture.

Unfortunately, like other members of the brassica family, kohlrabi is a delight to cabbage worms. Some people grow them under netting (I have just used cheap tulle from the fabric store, held down with bricks) or routine spraying with Bt, an organic product that when ingested by caterpillars is deadly. Do be careful not to spray on a breezy day, when it might carry onto flowers that attract good butterflies because Bt does not discriminate between good worms and bad worms.

Kohlrabi “Grand Duke”

When I began “collecting” varieties to trial this year I settled on the following:

  1. “Early White Vienna” because I know I’ll get a crop no matter what. 50 days
  2. “Early Purple Vienna” because I have lots of seed leftover, and we like it. 60 days
  3. “Grand Duke,” a hybrid and All-American selection in 1979 that reportedly holds well as the weather warms without getting woody. 50 days
  4. “Winner” another hybrid said to be even longer lasting over a longer period and still keeps its tender quality and good flavor. 50 days
  5. “Quickstar” a third hybrid that is slow to bolt and more uniform that some. 50 days

I chose not to grow “Kossack” even though it was available, because it is a hybrid that grows to the size of a bowling ball! I love kohlrabi raw or cooked, but that just seems like too much kohlrabi to deal with for two old folks! It is said to store extremely well in root cellars or refrigerators. And, it can be rough-chopped and used as animal feed. 80 days.

“Korist” (42 days) and Kolibri (43 days) are varieties I’ve grown in the past. Note that they are both earlier than the first two on my list that contain “Early” in their name. That’s what the wonders of plant breeding in creating hybrids can achieve. They are both F1 hybrids that did nicely, but I’d already placed my final veg order, and neither were offered from that company. I should have decided on my trial crop earlier! There are no doubt other varieties on offer, so check your favorite catalog or website and give kohlrabi a try this season. If I ever leave the house to shop, and find any other varieties, I’ll add them to the trials, and I’ll be reporting back on the trial results as the seasons progress.

If you haven’t tried kohlrabi, do give it a try. If you enjoy any other members of the cabbage family (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, aspra-broc, brussel sprouts, rutabaga, etc.) odds are you will like it, too!

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January: Monthly review

The first month of 2021 was not very memorable, nor filled with the optimism of past January’s. Like December, is was mostly gray and drab outdoors, so I left the Christmas tree up and the nutcrackers out the entire month to brighten the house, only putting them away on January 31st so we wouldn’t be susceptible to the bad luck associated with leaving any Christmas decor in a home by February 1st. Weather-wise it was slightly warmer than normal, but with much, much lower than average snow-fall which is worrying. The first 13 days were gray, then one day of sunshine and two partly sunny days, then another stretch of gray. In total, we had 7 sunny days, but at least each day was getting a bit longer as the month progressed.

The second “Wedding Dance” amaryllis

Happily, the amaryllis have continued to supply continual blooms indoors. A bulb has been planted every two weeks. Five were purchased new last fall with the tulip order, but most have been saved over the years, with the babies being separated and grown on to become adults. As you can see from the photo, the final day of January brought our largest snowfall for the winter, about 4″. Since I have no desire to go trudging out through the snow, and since nothing has really changed in the potager since last month, that’s the “official” photo for January!

To combat lethargy in January, some jugs were winter seeded with perennials that need cold stratification. Indoors, seeds were also planted in flats, partly to see if old seeds were still viable and partly just because I decided I was ready to make the commitment to their care! And, I realized that the lisianthus HAD to be planted if I wanted blooms this year.

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Lisianthus, seeded 1/7/21

It’s a good thing the lisianthus was seeded, because the photo above was just taken! Wow! These things are S-L-O-W!!! They germinated finally on 1/23 and were moved from the heat mat to the light stand. Eight days later they are still barely visible. They’d better be outstanding, or they’ll be cut from the list next year.

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The second flat was seeded 1/21/21

The second flat is (l to r) some really, really old dahlia seeds, which are apparently no longer viable; a perennial centurea for the Cutting Garden “The Bride”; Anchusa “Blue Angel” a perennial for the Addition Garden; Snapdragon “Snaptini Sunglow” for early containers; portulaca, a double yellow with orange edges that volunteered in a deck container last summer, so I saved the seed…and obviously sowed the “dust” way too thickly!!; cipollini “Bianca”, again old seed and it’s not germinating well, but that’s good to know now so I can start again with fresh seed; and lastly, Coleus “Wizard Gold”, which I loved last year and will add to the shady side of the Front Island to brighten that area, and under the elder, and in various containers for its beautiful golden foliage.

A third flat was seeded 1/28, but no photo taken, because nothing has germinated. It contains: Celery “Tango”, Verbena tenus. “Desert Jewels” (started earlier than last year because it’s slow, but worth the trouble) Snapdragon “Liberty Bronze,” my favorite for the potager’s interior and exterior borders; Scallion “Italian Red” for early salads and grilling; Salvia “Blue Bedder,” a favorite in the borders, also as a cut flower (and it dries pretty well) which often returns if we have a mild winter, but I always seed some in case not enough return; and Snapdragon “Madame Butterfly Bronze” for the Cutting Garden. That’s a total of 26 varieties seeded, but of course there are a few no-shows, as expected when using old seed. Those empty areas in the flats will be re-seeded soon.

Harvest expectations are not large in January, but any little bit is appreciated. This month only 1.25 lbs. were harvest, just enough for a salad to share with friends (although of course, it was simply dropped off. We ate it “together” on Zoom!) but it included kale, spinach, lettuce and parsley gathered from the potager as well as some ingredients from the garage (turnips, carrots, onion) and some dried cranberries and cheese with a maple syrup vinaigrette. Interestingly, it’s the same harvest weight as last year, which was totally spinach, so having a larger variety is an improvement. Carrots and leeks could have been harvested, but since there’s still a large bag of carrots in the fridge and two buckets of leeks in the garage, they will be saved till later.

So, that’s the review of January 2021. Not bad overall, and a bit of relief felt when D and my mother were able to get Covid vaccinations. Each day brings Spring a bit closer. My hope for an outdoor bloom in January was blanketed by snow, but possibly it may happen in February, which would also be a first!

Blessings on each of you. May February bring good things, sunshine, and happy thoughts!

Harvest totals

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Cutting Garden plans…inspired!

My birthday bouquet!

D surprised me with a big bouquet of flowers on my birthday last week, and I have truly been enjoying them since. Every day there is a little change, just as there is in the garden, with some flowers slightly changing in color as they fade and new buds opening. I find myself fiddling with it nearly every day to put the prettiest flowers facing my reading chair, and turning it when I am here at the computer. Watching to see which flowers last longest has become a priority. I also received a birthday check from my mother. It was a birthday check from my mother that bought the first seeds that began my first herb farm. That $25 was the “Seed” that grew into a very valuable piece of property and business, along with a lot of hard work, of course, and help from my wonderful children, and probably more luck than I’m aware of even now. But, I digress….

Looking at my bouquet has inspired me to do a better job with my Cutting Garden this year. I know, loyal readers are shaking their heads and thinking “she says that every year, but little change is made and rarely is a stem cut for a bouquet.” And, gentle readers, you would be entirely correct. I admit, that I’d rather leave the flowers in the gardens for not only my enjoyment, but for all the butterflies and other pollinators. And, during the growing season I’m really only in the house to sleep, so why bring flowers indoors unless one is entertaining? BUT, the enjoyment I am feeling with this bouquet has triggered a desire to bring that happy feeling to others: People who don’t have a garden of flowers to enjoy, as I am blessed in having. So 2021 is going to be the year the Cutting Garden actually serves its stated purpose. It’s going to become bouquets, which will go to people in our local nursing homes, or shut-ins who are feeling isolated. With that goal in mind, the tradition of spending my mother’s gift on seeds is continuing, this time with the Cutting Garden in mind and yet another seed order has been placed! (I bet you are not surprised at that statement either 🙂

Here’s what is coming for the bouquets:

This is a new one to me, so obviously I need it!
  1. Blue Thimble flower…1-2′ tall, 1-2″ ball blooms of blue June-frost (so they say, we’ll see!) A sun-loving annual, which is good because the Cutting Garden is in full sun all day.
Calendulas are always welcome.

2. Calendula “Bronze Beauty”. Calendulas are a staple in the potager, but these beauties are a new color, and destined for the Cutting Garden. To help them last longer, they’ll go in the shade of taller neighbors, since they don’t tolerate heat well, but they will provide lots of early color for bouquets.

Strawflowers extend the season.

3. Strawflower “Apricot Shades”…I used to plant 500 strawflowers, back when I grew dried flowers for wholesale, and for wreath-making for shows. They make a long-lasting cut flower when fresh, and can be dried for fall bouquets after frost as well.

I can almost smell the fragrance!

4. Sweet Pea “Mollie Rileston”-cream flowers with a coral edge. I fell in love with sweet peas last year, and hope they do as well this season.

Hopefully, it will really be this orange and not red!

5. Sweet Pea “Henry Eckford”-supposedly a true orange sweet pea, named for a famous breeder. The sweet peas will all go on trellises in the potager, since any planted outside the fence last year were quickly devoured by the rabbits!

These will be corms, not seeds.

6. Ranunculus “Cafe Au Lait”-I’m excited to try growing ranunculus for the first time. They probably won’t like our short spring that turns into summer so quickly, but I have a couple of ideas to make them happier. Hopefully the corms arrive SOON, so they can get an early start!

So, these are joining the 40 or so other varieties that are already either in, or soon will be in the 2021 Cutting Garden. Let’s just see how many bouquets can be made to bless some other flower lovers this year. I hope they like shades of orange, apricot, blues, purples, yellow, and white!

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